Janice Epperson, Tim Haney, Suzanne Keefe
By Crystal Burns
Three finalists have been selected for the Trenton Special School District superintendent position.
The school board voted June 6 to accept Dr. Janice Epperson, Tim Haney, and Suzanne Keefe as finalists. The Tennessee School Boards Association (TSBA) posted the job opening and selected the top three candidates based on criterion the local school board provided. TSBA received 16 applications, Executive Director Tammy Grissom said.
Epperson is currently the Instructional Leadership Director for Jackson Madison County Schools. Haney is principal at Peabody High School, and Keefe is principal of Halls High School.
Keefe will spend the day in Trenton on June 19, Epperson on June 20, and Haney on June 22. Their itineraries are identical and include tours of all three schools, lunch with central office staff and school administrators, meeting with all TSSD faculty and staff, a meet-and-greet with community leaders, interview, and dinner with the school board. The meet-and-greet, held each day 3-4 p.m. in the Teapot Room, and interview, 5-6:30 p.m. in the Peabody library, are open to the public. During the interview, only board members are allowed to question the candidates. Grissom suggested that an assigned board member ask the same question during each interview and said candidates would receive a list of questions before their interviews to make it as fair as possible to everyone.
“These are all questions that get at what have you [the candidate] done to address student achievement,” Grissom said. “They’re all questions where [candidates] will tell you what they have done.”
The board approved procedures to follow after the interviews. When the vote is held, each board member will write down his/her top two choices and sign his/her ballot. They could schedule visits in the top two finalists’ districts if the vote is close. Grissom said the goal is to choose a candidate with a unanimous vote. The board will then begin negotiations with the top vote getter.
Board chairman Dr. Mark Harper said it’s important for the four candidates running for three seats on the school board in August to attend the interviews and give feedback to the current board. Justin Weaver is running unopposed and will take Sherry Whitby’s seat. Cicily Buchanan and Clint Hickerson are vying for Jim Overall’s seat, and Myra Elam is challenging incumbent Dee Ann McEwen.
After the meeting, Dr. Harper said the board has two responsibilities: hire a director of schools (superintendent) and set the goals/vision and policies for the district.
“We’re charged with the future and the welfare of the children in this community,” he said. “I’m excited about it. We have an excellent reputation as a school system. We’ve never had a divided board. This is a good place to work. It’s a good district to be in.”
Dr. Harper also said the board wants to hear from the community.
“We want community involvement,” he said. “We want the public to be actively involved, giving us input into our next superintendent.”
Retiring superintendent Sandra Harper will stay on until August 31.
Grant money – The district has received a $30,000 school nutrition grant to be used for equipment at Trenton Rosenwald Middle School. The money will be used to purchase a double stack combo oven to replace fryers at the cafeteria.
Peabody High School has received a $50,000 CTE discretionary grant, which will purchase equipment for a CNA program that the school will partner with Dyersburg State Community College to provide. At the end of the course, students may take a test that, if passed, gives them their CNA credentials.
Peabody has also received a $5,000 CTE incentive grant that will be used to improve the greenhouse.
Trenton Elementary School received a Read to Be Ready Summer grant for students in grades K-2. The $49,635 grant is paying salaries for teachers and providing books, t-shirts, backpacks field trips for students. Michele Elliott, Supervisor of Teaching and Learning, said the camp focuses on reading and writing with a lot of enrichment activities planned to keep children engaged and foster a love of reading.
TNReady update – Elliott said that despite Trenton schools sticking to the statewide testing schedule, TNReady scores were not available for all students’ report cards. The district received End Of Course test scores the afternoon of graduation, and teachers came back after Memorial Day to record the results on report cards. Scores for grades 3-8 were not back at the end of the school year, but teachers and leaders at TES and TRMS elected to hold report cards. Elliott said as soon as the scores come in, teachers would get back to school to record them. Parents will be assigned days to pick up their children’s report cards.
Absenteeism – Shane Jacobs, Attendance/Assessment Coordinator, updated the board on the district’s efforts to combat what the state now calls chronically out of school. Jacobs said he and other school leaders held meetings at each school with parents whose students had missed more than five unexcused days during the school year, but Jacobs said the district also has a problem with students who have excused absences. He said he stressed that there is no such thing as makeup learning and asked parents to schedule routine appointments during breaks instead of during the school day. He also talked about consistency and encouraged parents to help their children develop routines.
Federal cuts – Elliott and Amy Allen, Special Education/Pre-K Supervisor, reviewed title money for the 2017-18 school year with the board, saying there are cuts in the federal finances the district receives.
“It hurts drastically,” Allen said. “It is what it is, but we’re very smart with [our money], and we do the best that we can.”
Custodial services – Sandra Harper and Tony Kash narrowed a list of six vendors for custodial services down to Beck and PESG, but they told the board they need more time to make a final recommendation. The board reviewed information on each company, and most of their questions pertained to the workforce and if current employees would be retained.
“There are certain individuals who have been loyal to our district and our community, and we will work to see that they continue,” Harper said.
The board will hold a special called meeting June 19 to award the contract, which begins August 1.
Imagination Library – Peggy Davis, Gibson County Imagination Library, presented several recognitions to the board and schools. Through a voluntary payroll deduction, employees donated more than $700 to Imagination Library, which provides an age-appropriate book a month to children ages 0-5, and the district donated $1,000 to cover enrollment for the incoming Pre-K class. The Trenton Education Association donated $1,279 to Imagination Library, and Peabody Future Teachers of America donated $1,608.